Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reprogramming God's Computer

From a theological perspective, the problem of evil is usually expressed like this: how can an all-powerful God permit evil and suffering to exist? The presumption being that since evil and suffering are counter to the nature of God's goodness, it only makes sense that such a being would wish to eliminate them at every opportunity. Given the presence of genuine evil in the world, either God doesn't have the power to do anything about it, in which case he's not God, or he's not willing, in which case he's not good.

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. There are probably as many ways of addressing this issue as there are theologians who've dared to try. It reminds me of the Kobayashi Maru, the no-win scenario from Star Trek, and I have the sneaking suspicion, like James T. Kirk, God has somehow reprogrammed the computer. That he did so without telling anyone is an inside joke. And, I think leaving us to clean up the mess, just may be the punchline.

I know, that sounds like I'm suggesting God is playing games with us, but truthfully, I'm not. There are some things we need to struggle with, over and over, in order to arrive at a measure of maturity as human beings, responsible for each other and the planet we live on. And evil is one of the biggies. Those who would dismiss the problem by denying the presence of evil or blaming God for refusing to make things easier, miss the point. We're supposed to do it because we become better in the process.

When I was in junior high school, my wood shop instructor taught us to submit a bill of materials before beginning work on our class projects. We had to make a drawing of whatever it was we planned to build, determine which tools and how much wood we'd need, then write up a list and get his approval. If we apply this to the question of evil, we have a number of tools to choose from, and the ones we select will have considerable influence on the appearance of our "project" when we're finished.

For instance, if we were to take one of the traditional theological ones, we could say evil results from the exercise of free will and since God isn't willing to violate our freedom, we make our own bed, so to speak. Then again, we might eliminate God from the equation entirely, and say, along with some of the existentialists, that evil is a consequence of living, and since life has no intrinsic meaning, neither does suffering. That's kind of bleak, but it's one solution, nevertheless.

We can build our house out of anything if we try hard enough. The question is, which of the three little pigs are we going to emulate? Ultimately, the solution we come up with has to provide a way of making ethical decisions that we can live with. And that's the rub. Conscience makes cowards of us all, said Hamlet. We can say one thing in the classroom but when confronted with flesh and blood, feel compelled to do another. Maybe it all does comes down to conscience after all, because suffering is personal, no matter how we formulate it.

(Creative Commons image of Star Trek 2009 cast by
Las Valley 702 via Flickr)

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